Increase in Obesity Affects Children’s Health Index Score
Childhood obesity, which increased from 6.1% of children between 12 and 19 years old in 1974 to 15.6% in 2002, has had such a negative impact on health that it has driven the children's health index down by 15% since 1975, according to a report released Wednesday, Scripps Howard/Arizona Daily Star reports. The report, called the Child Well-Being Index, also considered in its health assessment infant mortality; low birthrates; overall mortality of children ages one to 19; the percentage of children whose health limits their activity, according to parents' reports; and the percentage of parents who consider their children in "very good" or "excellent" health (Scripps Howard/Arizona Daily, 3/25). Kenneth Land, the study's lead researcher and sociology professor at Duke University, and colleagues examined 28 measures of children's well-being, combined them into seven broader categories and charted changes since 1975, the first year that reliable data became available (Sessions Stepp, Washington Post, 3/25). In addition to children's health, the study examined family income and job stability, social relationships, safety, educational attainment, place in community and spiritual and emotional health. Most of the data was collected from federal agencies, such as the Bureau of the Census. The study found that overall, children's well-being increased by 5% between 1975 and 2002, largely because of a decrease in crime rates (Schaefer Munoz, Wall Street Journal, 3/25). However, children's health dropped more than any other category, mostly because of obesity-related health problems (Washington Post, 3/25). "Childhood obesity has risen to a point that it can be considered a modern-day epidemic," the report stated (Salant, AP/Detroit News, 3/24). If obesity were removed from the health calculations, children's health would have remained unchanged between 1984 and 2002, according to the study.
"We've spent all this money on health, obesity has gotten worse and everything else is the same," Donald Hernandez, sociology professor at the State University of New York-Albany and a consultant on the survey, said (Washington Post, 3/25). The study was funded by child advocacy group Foundation for Child Development and released at the Brookings Institution (Wall Street Journal, 3/25). A panel including lawmakers and child advocates that convened at the study's release suggested that the index be updated annually to draw attention to children's issues and inform debate (Washington Post, 3/25). However, some child advocates said the index is flawed because all categories are given equal importance and because it does not identify populations that are disproportionately affected by societal trends (Wall Street Journal, 3/25). CBS' "Evening News" Wednesday reported on the child well-being index. The segment includes comments from American Academy of Pediatrics President Dr. Carden Johnston and Fasaha Traylor, senior program officer for the Foundation for Child Development (Kaledin, "Evening News," CBS, 3/24). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer. MPR's "Marketplace Morning Report" Wednesday also reported on the child well-being index (Gardner, "Marketplace Morning Report," MPR, 3/24). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.